We hear a lot about the importance of forgiveness: how healing it is to forgive, how our health, state of mind, and general happiness can depend on whether we are able to let go of resentments and forgive others and ourselves. Studies have shown that remembering past hurts, results in significant spikes in blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. In the same studies when subjects were asked to imagine forgiving the people who had wronged them, they remained calm with no increase in blood pressure and so on.
In another, larger study, researchers confirmed that people who have forgiven someone in their past, report being in better health, having a happier disposition and fewer ‘negative’ thoughts about those people and their own past. Clearly, forgiveness is good for you!
We all harbour resentments: towards parents for real or
imagined wrongs committed against us in childhood; towards past and present partners for betrayals or other wrongs—again real and imagined. We might even resent ‘the world’ for its unfairness. We can hold on to these resentments for years. Often the people we resent have moved on, were never aware of a problem or they may have even died. All the while, we go on suffering the ill effects of clinging to hurts and resentments.
Try these short and simple exercises when you feel that you want to bring some forgiveness into your life.
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit or lie down comfortably. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Let your mind slow down, but don’t try to stop thoughts that come. Once you feel relaxed and quiet, think of someone who you feel the need to forgive. This isn’t always easy: we often like to hang on to our resentments, or the hurt was so great that forgiveness seems impossible. But remember, this is about you and your well-being.
Now, bring an image of that person into your mind. Once you see them clearly, say to them, ‘I forgive you. However you have hurt me, through thought, word, or deed I let go of all resentment towards you’. Now you can let that person go on her or his way, knowing that they have been touched by your forgiveness. When you’re ready, return to your day, refreshed and relieved.
Of course, it works both ways. All of us have committed wrongs against others—or there are others who believe they’ve been wronged in some way by us. You can use the same exercise to ask them for forgiveness. Once again, picture the person. Then say to them, ‘I ask your forgiveness. Forgive me for whatever pain I have caused you’. Then, and this is the important bit, allow yourself to be forgiven.
Because we are usually harder on ourselves, we often find that the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. So, to start forgiving yourself, bring a picture of you into mind. Now, say to that picture of you, ‘I forgive you’. If any hard or unforgiving thoughts come to mind, gently turn them around. And be kind to yourself. Again, allow yourself to be forgiven.
This exercise is not a magic formula; it is merely the beginning of a process which, when followed up by acts of forgiveness (a subject for another day), will allow you to start to forgive others and yourself.